A guardian ad litem, or “GAL” serves as a voice for the most vulnerable. Their primary goal is to find a permanent, loving, and most of all safe home for children in crisis. For instance, children that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or sometimes trapped in the middle of a brutal custody battle. In a child custody case, a guardian ad litem investigates the parties’ parenting-related allegations and makes recommendations to the judge, such as recommending which party should receive custody (primary care).
The judge usually follows the recommendations. Because of this, a GAL can drastically change the dynamic of a case, so it’s important to know when to have one intercede for your child.
A parent is suspected of child abuse
A few instances that warrant a GAL are allegations of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Unlike a judge, a GAL can be outside the courtroom to investigate these allegations. They will speak with other caregivers, teachers, neighbors, counselors, social workers, examine police reports, and determine the validity of the allegations.
A parent is abusing a controlled substance or alcohol
Similar to child abuse cases, a GAL would investigate these allegations and determine if a child is at risk of negligence.
The child has clearly indicated a preference for one parent
In custody and visitation cases, there are three parties: the mother, the father, and the child. The court usually will not allow your children to testify, but your child’s voice is important when making these determinations. In this instance, the court would want a GAL to tactfully interview the children. The GAL would then report back to the judge with his/her findings.
Parents are submitting contradictory stories
The greater the difference in parenting-related allegations, the greater the chance a GAL will be appointed to investigate the case.
Inadmissible, Multimedia, or Large Amounts of Evidence
Unlike a trial, a court hearing won’t have the time or ability to review these types of evidence. So, if the evidence is worthy, a GAL is appointed to review its viability and submit his/her recommendations to the judge.
If a guardian ad litem has been appointed to your case, it is important to take it very seriously. A GAL is like anyone else, first impressions matter. Be proactive! Be the first to call, the first to schedule a visit, the first to pay. This is like a job interview, but for the most important position of your life!